Celebrating a forgotten moment in history
By Terri Schlichenmeyer | OW Contributor
The celebration is coming soon, you can feel it in the air.
Your entire family will gather together for one special day. There’ll be picnics and tasty foods, dancing, and storytelling. No, it’s not Christmas or your birthday, not Easter or Ramadan. It’s Juneteenth and these three new books will help you understand why that day is important....
For the uninitiated, Juneteenth has a lot of traditions! In “Jayylen’s Juneteenth Surprise” by Lavaille Lavette, illustrated by David Wilkerson (2023, Little Golden Book), a young boy learns how all the pieces fit in his new favorite holiday. The fun begins when Paw Paw Jimmy comes to visit, and he introduces Jayylen to the frottoir, a musical instrument that means there’s going to be dancing. With the cute and simple illustrations in this book and the excitement it conveys, you know it’s gonna be a party, and this book is a great (and inexpensive!) Juneteenth introduction for kids ages 3 to 5.
In David’s house, Juneteenth doesn’t start until Grandma’s ready to tell stories and in “The Night Before Freedom: A Juneteenth Story” by Glenda Armand 2023, (Crown Books/Random House Kids), the best one is the one that her grandmother told her. Mom Bess was just a little girl when the first Juneteenth arrived, and hearing the story is a can’t-miss for David and his family. Five-to-8-year-olds will love this tale, told as a beautiful, fantastical memory. Parents will love the artwork by Corey Barksdale inside the covers.
Find “A Flag for Juneteenth” by Kim Taylor (2023, Neal Porter Books/Holiday House) for your 5-to-8-year-old, and share it with your favorite seamstress. Here, all the illustrations are quilted, crafted, and embroidered, leaving readers with nostalgia to match the tale of almost-ten-year-old Hulda, who wakes up on her birthday morning to hear the best news ever. “All slaves are free,” she and her parents are told, and everyone celebrated – everyone, that is, except the plantation owners. And while her neighbors danced, some women sat down and sewed freedom flags that looked like warm, soft quilts. The children found branches for use as flagpoles, and their fathers carved the branches with designs and symbols like the intricate “Fawohodie.” It means independence and freedom.” Be absolutely sure that you read the author’s note at the end of this story; it’s a great explanation, written for parents who will appreciate knowing about the work that went into this book.
These three tales might not be enough for your family, which is why your favorite librarian or bookseller is waiting for you. They’ll have something perfect for every age group and everyone in your household who’ll partake in your Juneteenth picnic or party. They’ll know just the thing you want to read for yourself, or read aloud.
One of the best parts of Juneteenth is the storytelling, and these great books will help you do that in a way your child can understand. Make them a new tradition in your house, and add to the celebration.